Stephenson (left) and Fleetwood: law firms frustrated with directories

Two former partners of leading City law firms have launched an online legal directory venture that they hope will replace the traditional directories.

Richard Fleetwood and Gareth Stephenson, respectively partners for 20 years at Addleshaw Goddard and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, joined forces with the former general counsel of global plumbing giant Ferguson plc, Richard Shoylekov, to form top3legal.com, which was launched last week.

Top3legal, which aims to be a global lawyer information network, enables client recommendations to be linked to an existing database of 158,000 lawyers, assembled from publicly available information.

Simple lawyer profiles, containing work types and contact details, are free and more complex ones are paid-for.

The founders said they drew on their corporate experience to bypass the “bureaucracy” and “uncertain return on investment” involved in engagement with the current directory structures – namely those produced by Chambers and Partners and The Legal 500.

Speaking to Legal Futures, Mr Fleetwood and Mr Stephenson said they had conducted research among “senior figures at the top-30 law firms” over six months last year to confirm that “our frustrations with the existing directories are widely held”.

Mr Stephenson explained the initial thinking: “I was very aware of what an incredible amount of money and time gets spent both externally and internally in [preparing] the directory entries, with all the submissions and client references and so on.

“I think the whole space is just ripe for disruption and innovation. There’s a real appetite to encourage something different.”

“Our key market research finding was that when [corporate law firms] are looking for a new lawyer, [they are] not looking at the directories but ‘phoning their network contacts… and saying ‘tell me who would you recommend for tax in Madrid? Who are your top three M&A lawyers in China?’”

Mr Fleetwood said: “We’ve only been launched a few hours and we can already see that lawyers all over the world have registered with us today, [for instance] from Lithuania, Romania, Tokyo, which is incredible.

“So hopefully it’s not just a UK problem and is a true global problem.”

Revenue will come from premium profiles, which allow lawyers and firms to provide more extensive information, such as links to CVs and the firm’s website. Premium profiles are sold by annual subscription, ranging from £120 for an individual down to £36 each for over 2,000.

Mr Fleetwood said he expected it would take two to three years before some law firms compared existing directories “side by side” with Top3legal and decided a premium profile was better value.

So far, he said, several large firms had bought group subscriptions and “we are talking to a whole pile more, discussing terms with them”.

He added: “We wanted the process to be really straightforward, [like] if you ask in the corridor who are the people you would recommend, which are the top three names that would come to mind?

“It’s a really slick process which is facilitated by that free data being there because all [clients] have to do is type in the name of the person and get a match and they can recommend them.

“We’ve seen companies put down 40 recommendations over the space of quarter of an hour.

“Every time a lawyer registers [with Top3legal] and asks the clients for recommendations, that brings new clients onto the platform and similarly when new clients come on and recommend lawyers, that brings new lawyers on.”

Mr Fleetwood left Addleshaws in 2014 to found business strategy software company objectivemanager.com. Its website claimed the software was used by a number of large law firms, including Dentons, Bird & Bird, Pinsent Masons and Norton Rose Fulbright.

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